A real organisation

Jo Bailey
January 2014

Section summary

  • Being clear about the organisation and making sure users can contact that organisation is key
  • Beyond the website, the need for a timely, well managed response is vital for building reputation and credibility.
  • Domain names need to match the name of the organisation, or users find it suspicious.
  • LAWA was chosen as a name that has no connotations (other than the neat synergy that awa means river in Te Reo). This is important as users can form an opinion based solely on their interactions with the site.

…credible sources are seen as likely to produce credible messages and credible messages are seen as likely to have originated from credible sources. 

(Rieh & Danielson, 2007)

LAWA does not actually exist. That is, you cannot go to the LAWA office, or meet the LAWA Chief Executive. Yet, demonstrating who you are as an organisation is a central WCP requirement (Fogg, 2002).

B.J. Fogg has said, “with the rise of Web 2.0 services, the focus of credibility evaluations extend beyond the page to the people represented. In other words, Credibility 2.0 has become more like reputation, or perceived reputation" (“Stanford Web Credibility Project,” n.d.). Establishing LAWA as an organisation and building a reputation comes, in part, from the brand.

LAWA is born

Open Lab inherited the name LAWNZ, but all it evoked was gardening services. The LAWNZ/LAWA Steering Group had purchased domain names for ‘Source’ and ‘The Source’ but anecdotal polling suggested the associations were radio stations and ketchup.

Forming a new identity was an iterative process with a serendipitous outcome. More literal suggestions such as Catchment held too much embodied meaning for the scientists. We needed a name that could develop meaning for the users through their engagement, without any preconceived connotations.

LAWA is Land Air Water Aotearoa. A result of working methodically through all possible acronyms,  the serendipitous moment came when a colleague pointed out that ‘awa’ is river in Te Reo Māori.

We had experimented with logos that evoked pou rāhui, landscapes, cartography or rivers, but they were either too close to the clichés identified in the research phase, or too abstract for the clients. Our chosen identity plays off the fact that LAWA is a phonetically similar word to data. Through paper prototyping and stop motion animation, the idea of fragments of data coming together to make a coherent object – the LAWA name – was developed.

Video: LAWA paper stop motion logo animations

LAWA logo  

Final static LAWA logo

who is LAWA?

The need to be transparent about who is behind LAWA came out very strongly in the user workshops (see Appendix III).

The first design decision was to have a clear About section, in which all the stakeholders were listed, and links to their own websites were made available. A paragraph on each organisation describes in their own words what they do. Association with the reputation and perceived neutrality of an independent research agency and a university also assists perceived credibility.

Because LAWA is not actually an incorporated entity, that most basic of WCP requirement – stating a physical address – was not actually possible. Instead, we added the ability to email a LAWA email address, or an individual council, to the footer of all pages.

WCP guidelines suggest identifying the real people behind an organisation. Unfortunately, we do not show any people on LAWA’s About section. Profiling key partners – scientists, designers and government staff – would have been more transparent, and is something to consider for phase two (LAWA partners Cawthron do this well on their own website).

Though difficult in the case of LAWA, with Making Good, identifying myself as a ‘real person’ was not only possible but essential. The LAWA focus group comments about needing to understand the position of LAWA echo the rationales for making a personal statement given by Lucienne Roberts (2006) and Hillary Collins (2010).

Domain name

It may seem obvious, but having a domain name that matches the name of the organisation is important for credibility. Users sense “something suspicious about a company that does not operate under its own name” (Fogg, 2003, p. 159). We observed this with LAWNZ, which used landandwater.co.nz (not landandwater.org.nz, which belongs to another organisation).

Org.nz was selected as LAWA's primary domain. Appropriateness is again important here. Organisation (.org.nz) is more accurate than commercial (.co.nz), and also anecdotally is perceived as more independent and trustworthy. Using the suffix .nz also helps add context.

For this site, I selected an academic (.ac.nz) domain as the most accurate reflection of the content.

Ethical Considerations

Claiming a coincidence as deliberate

The fact that LAWA contains the word awa was a nice coincidence, and one we worked into our presentation to the clients as if it was completely by design. Was it deceitful not to admit it was a happy accident? Personally, I don’t think it’s any less valid because it was happenstance.

Cultural appropriation

Making the awa connection ticked a ‘culture’ box in our minds, without actually engaging very much with Māori language or culture. Equally, incorporating Aotearoa into the name rather than New Zealand serves the same function (though that was a phonetic choice rather than a cultural one – words ending in ‘nz’ are something of a cliché)

Is branding ever ethical?

Some commentators state that creating a brand is about image and mythmaking, so is therefore manipulating perception.

During my research I noted an article in which Oxfam highlighted Dole’s hypocrisy over using an Ethical Choice ‘tick’ on their bananas, despite the fact that there are documented cases of anti-trade union behaviour, child labour and sub-minimum wage pay at Dole plantations. Dole’s reaction? To withdraw the Ethical Choice mark, not to commit to address the issues. Clearly, they were ‘ethicalwashing’. A designer would have made that stamp, designed to convey credibility, despite the fact that there was plenty of evidence to the contrary. I wondered if they had any qualms about it?

Mr Keedy (Keedy, 2003, p.208) says “designers think of themselves as good people whose clients make them do bad things – the “I was only following orders” defense.” In the Dole case, I am pretty sure I would have said no to that job.

LAWA is more nuanced. The aim is laudable. I am sure the people involved are not part of a conspiracy, yet there are scientists who hold that the regional councils and MfE’s testing regimes are dishonest. Martin Lindstrom (Lindstrom, 2012) advocates aligning perceptions of a brand with reality, adjusting one or other for them to be in sync. Dole chose to adjust the easy variable. Katherine McCoy (McCoy, 2003, p.5) advocates acknowledging bias rather than manipulating with assurances of ‘universal “truth” and “purity”’. With LAWA, hopefully the inclusion of articles presenting opinions across the spectrum will help create a balanced picture.

Partner credibility

I had a conversation late in the process with someone who said they were torn by the Tindall Foundation funding the project. They thought that the money would otherwise have been spent on restoration projects, so it was taking potential funds away from grassroots groups.

Further than that though, they believed that as Stephen Tindall makes his money from The Warehouse (which sells cheap goods from China) not only did that make LAWA complicit in conspicuous overconsumption, but worse, our dairy industry supplying China with infant formula meant Chinese women were buying formula instead of breastfeeding, so they could work in factories to make more plastic stuff for The Warehouse. A very depressing cycle.

A colleague’s take was that if Stephen Tindall didn’t fund LAWA, it wouldn’t exist. This is always the argument when a charity takes cause related marketing contributions from a company, but not all donors are equal. In this grey area, is there a line?